Even One "Cheat" Day Could Hurt Your Weight Loss Efforts

By , SparkPeople Blogger
When you're trying to change your eating habits and become healthier, it's important not to totally deny yourself the foods you love. You probably can't continue eating pizza 5 nights a week, but you can still enjoy a slice now and then. Just because you have a healthy diet doesn't mean that you never indulge in a bowl of ice cream or slice of pie. I feel like I have a pretty good diet, but I also leave room for the occasional piece of chocolate (okay, maybe more than occasional.)

Some people like to incorporate the foods they enjoy into their daily menus. But others like to have "cheat" days, where they stick to a plan during the week, and then eat whatever they'd like on the weekends (for example). But a study in the International Journal of Obesity showed that people who ate a consistent number of calories all week long were 50% more likely to maintain their weight than those who stuck to a stricter plan Monday through Friday.

One reason I'm not a fan of "cheat" days is because many people just end up looking forward to those few days a week when they can enjoy the foods they love, instead of learning how to incorporate those foods into their everyday life. I think it's fine to plan for those special occasions like your father's birthday party or a girls night out when you're going to eat a little more than usual. But this research shows that might not be a good strategy on a regular basis.

Calorie cycling is another option to use instead of "cheat" days, whether you're trying to lose weight or maintain your current weight. Eating varying amounts of calories during the week (that still add up to what you need over the week as a whole) keeps your body from getting used to a specific routine. This can help with weight loss, but also helps you plan for those days when you know you're going to eat a little more, and those days when you know you don't need quite as much.

What do you think about "cheat" days? Do they work for you? Do you use other techniques like calorie cycling or budgeting for extra treats on a regular basis?

Click here to to redeem your SparkPoints
  You will earn 5 SparkPoints
See more: news healthy eating


YMWONG22 4/11/2021
Good article Report
PATRICIAAK 3/26/2021
:) Report
PATRICIAAK 10/22/2020
:) Report
I don't do cheat days because you only cheat yourself. Report
I don't believe in "cheat days." Whether or not one chooses to call one's new, healthy eating plan a "diet" or a "lifestyle change," cheat days completely defeat the purpose! As for denying myself certain foods (e.g. ice cream, chocolate chip cookies, tortilla chips) -- maybe other people can incorporate them in moderation into their daily meals, but I CANNOT. Not only do I have trouble stopping once I begin, but my cravings for them are reawakened. Therefore, I DO have to keep them off-limits, probably for good. Report
Thank you for your article. I tried to have just one cheat day, but found it throws everything off. I'm learning from this that 7 good days are better than just 6. Thank you again. God Bless Report
I don't do 'cheat' days - and don't use the word 'cheat', but I do, very successfully, follow the No S diet, which is strict Monday-Friday, and eases up the rules on weekends and special days. This works for me because the 'rules' during the week (three meals, no snacks, no sweets, no seconds) spills over into the weekend behaviour. Finding what works for you, your eating personality, is key to success I think. Report
This is a good article. I guess I didn't understand what a cheat day really was. I felt like I cheated but having something that was not on my plan does not constitute a cheat day as I understand this article. I feel so much better! Report
I do not do cheat days and no food is off limits and I will not pick pizza with the lowest fat & calories if I do not enjoy the taste. I would rather 1 slice of good pizza then 2 slices of average pizza. If it is a special occasion like a birthday I will eat 100 calories a day less for 7 days in advance, so I have 700 calories or less to work with. I also do this when I go out for supper, most times 1 day per. month. When I go out for supper I do not order healthy food as I consider it a treat I rarely do. I eat very healthy at home. If I am not going out that week I can take 100 calories a day & include a treat like ice cream or chocolate so I do not have cravings.I do not do this every day but overall eat healthy. I have lost 46 pounds in 1 1/2 years now. This is my way of life & not a diet to be changed later. Report
Great Article---Thanks! Report
I never liked the use of the word 'cheat'! I mean, who are you cheating? You either eat it or you don't , just like being on a 'diet'. Eventually you go off, then what? I like the idea of incorporating healthy eating, enjoying an occasional splurge and understanding how it all can benefit you, without making the struggle miserable! Report
Very good article.I personally can't have cheat days. I will have one cheat day and then I will fall off the wagon. I will end up with a whole week of "cheating" going on. Maybe as I get better control of my emotions and cravings but I doubt it. I've been cheating for too many years now. Unfortunately some people see this as lack of self control. Report
Great article. I just wrote a blog about this. Cheating only cheats ourselves. We are not trying to quickly lose weight, we are trying to change the way we deal with food. If you look at this as a get "thin quick" scheme, and get to cheat once a week, I GUARANTEE you will be back here in a year, doing the same thing, all over again.

You need to incorporate good eating habits into your life. If you MUST have something, allot for it, and track it. This isn't a do or die scenario, this is a lifetime plan to get healthy.

If you want a piece of pizza, look it up, find one that has the lowest calories and fat, and eat a piece. SLOWLY. Savor every bite. Put it on a pretty plate. Sit down. Put the piece down between every bite. We should eat like that every single meal.

Don't cheat, allocate calories. Don't cheat yourself.

Spark on. Report
I can see even a snack here and there disrupting one's daily calorie intake if one does not take into account the extra calories as well as sodium content, sugar etc

I don't feel a need to eat any snacks in between meals, so that is something I don't want to spoil by incorporating as it only takes a conditioned response to go back to where we were over time, or in short order depending how out of control we become in indulgences. That would be terrible especially when it was completely unnecessary in our minds at the time. I say get to your goal weight, and then indulge at times, but of course account for the extra calories and whatnot. Report
Hey, Coach Jen. I agree with you on so many levels here. Here is the key: "One reason I'm not a fan of "cheat" days is because many people just end up looking forward to those few days a week when they can enjoy the foods they love, instead of learning how to incorporate those foods into their everyday life. I think it's fine to plan for those special occasions like your father's birthday party or a girls night out when you're going to eat a little more than usual. But this research shows that might not be a good strategy on a regular basis. "

I am moving away from food being the motivator, my big reward, the star of every party, the focus of each effort, the comforter of each affliction. My SparkMenu occasionally lists a low-fat chocolate pudding: I track and enjoy it. At Thanksgiving at my Mom's, I will log and count a small piece of her celebrated pie. But the pie will no longer be my dread nor my "reward." Report
Nope....and why? Because I cannot be trusted to have just ONE. It's a slippery slope with me. So, I eat those things I crave/want in much smaller portions and not often so I have no reason to "cheat". It just seems counterproductive to me. Report
I don't do cheat days. I have never felt a need. I don't deny myself good food, I just plan for it. If I want to go out for a 1000 calorie dinner, I workout, and eat light the rest of the day. Easy peasy. Report
I DISAGREE WHOLEHEARTEDLY!!!!!!!! I lost 127lbs 40 years ago and have kept it off AND I had 1 CHEAT day every week from the get-go and STILL DO! It is the dangling carrot for eating healthy and working out the other days.. IT WORKS!!! Report
I don't do cheat days. There's nothing I can't have in moderation so why would I? And if I have too much to eat at one meal I really like to get back on track with the next. Report
I am also not in favor of cheat days. I find myself pretty off schedule. I mean, diet means a strict balance. Why do cheat days? I also used to cheat days, but then I quit on them and it has been quite some time. Report
I don't do cheat days because they can throw me off track for weeks. As the article mentioned, I try to work in "bad" foods to my daily budget of points. (I follow Weight Watchers). If I want to eat a slice or two of pizza, that is fine, but then I need to eat a lighter lunch, like salad with crab, or a lighter soup. It's been working for me that way so far. I used to have a problem with alcohol (a pretty large problem), and that's been the hardest part for me is avoiding binge drinking. The Spark community has helped a lot. I'm always looking for new motivation buddies... it's what keeps me going! Report
I do not really think that I would want to be able to cheat all weekend long and be expected not to wreck the successes I had prior to that.. I know my body and I know that it would not respond to well to all that cheating ... Report
I have cheat meals on holidays, obviously, but rarely else. Sometimes I'll choose to eat at maintenance calories for a day, to shake up the routine, especially when eating out since I know I'll need extra calories for a truly satisfying meal that is worth the money. But those days are usually less than twice a month, including takeout and movie theater popcorn.

When on vacation at Disney (about 1 consecutive week a year), I generally take 25,000 steps a day and all of the rules and counting get thrown out the window. Never lose while there, but never gain. Report
When I first started this journey I allowed myself 1 "cheat" meal per week and stuck to plan for the rest of the week. But I soon found that was unrealistic. My cravings were through the roof, and that 1 "cheat" meal often ended up turning into a cheat day.

Since discovering this, I have simply found a way to work foods I like into my plan. I've searched for healthier versions, and make adjustments when and where I need to. If I want something really bad (the new brownie & chocolate chip cakes from Sara Lee are my guilty pleasure), I always consult my meal tracker to see how many more calories and how much more fat, carbs etc. I'm allowed for the day. If I'm too close to the limit, and don't do it. If I have a good bit to spare, I enjoy a guilty pleasure or 2 in moderation. Otherwise, I have worked healthier (fewer calories, a shorter ingredient list, less sat fat, less sodium, no high fructose corn syrup or partially-hydrogenated oils etc.) versions of my favorite snacks and foods into my plan, I track everything and I eat everything in moderation. I also am careful to go by serving sizes so nothing sneaks past. That process seems to be much more effective. My super-heightened cravings are gone, I don't have any more out-of-control days and I'm at or under my limits each day.

That 1 cheat day may not seem like a lot, but part of the "cheating" is that most people don't tend to track anything on those days. That means you have no idea how much damage you've really done. Just find ways to make what you like healthier, follow serving sizes and eat in moderation, and it won't be necessary! Report
I don't do a cheat day, but every Friday I have 1 cheat meal. That way I can still indulge a little but its not going overboard. I also stay within my calorie range. Works for me! Report
I definitely allow myself my Saturday evening TREAT (not cheat). Not only is it a good mental reset for me, but 1) it helps me stay on track all week long because I know I have Saturday evening to have whatever I want, 2) that means that I can do this week after week after week, forever, because I know that 95% of the time I will eat healthily (which, by the way, I do love) without being forever deprived of what I want; 3) I don't have to feel anxious about going to a birthday party or other gathering (usually on Saturdays) because I know it's my day to have whatever treats I want, 4) most importantly, I truly believe that having a treat days resets my leptin levels which in turn boosts my metabolism again. Report
About 10 years ago I started working out and rejoined Weight Watchers. Yes, I am a yo-yo dieter. Over the course of a year I lost 80 pounds by following the program and working out religiously.

I was also a member of the "cheat plan". I would give myself 1 day a week to eat whatever it was I wanted. I followed WW faithfully, but I found that by giving myself permission to have what I craved on that one day made it seem less of a need to think or worry about falling off the program. I never felt the urge to go crazy and binge because I knew I could have what I wanted on my 1 cheat day (usually a Saturday or Sunday). There were times when I craved something and I would tell myself that I had to wait a few days, and then, by the time my cheat day came, I had lost the desire for it. It’s all about giving yourself permission on 1 day out of 7, to eat what it is you want. That doesn’t mean you’re going to eat a carton of ice cream or a large pizza! But by allowing yourself the splurge, the focus becomes the food and how it feels in your mouth and tastes instead of the guilt and self-talk of how you shouldn't be eating this and oh well, I might as well eat the whole bag because I’m already over the edge. You, by allowing the 1 day, are still in control. And isn't that what losing weight is all about…staying in control?

I also made a wonderful discovery and this is probably the most important and beneficial, yes…beneficial, side to allowing a cheat day. In my case, having a cheat day would reset my metabolism! I NEVER had a plateau in my weight loss. Typically, when dieting, your body gets used to the program you’re on and freezes up trying to hold on because it thinks it’s in famine mode. But then you throw some additional fuel on the fire that one "cheat" day and your metabolism heats up once again and keeps on burning until you’re back to embers, and you fuel it again (1 day only) and voila! Fired up once more!

I know many will disagree with what I've said, but by reading the other's comments, I know I'm not alone. I am a proud member of the "Cheaters Club"! : )
I REALLY try not to have cheat days, although I accidentally do it sometimes since I am not perfect! It just revives that desire for too much of the wrong things. I like the idea of the calorie cycling and have been trying it although 1) I find it more difficult than a specific daily goal and 2) I would like to see research on it. Anyone heard of any? Report
So far no cheat days here. I don't believe it reflects the values that you're trying to strive for. "Suffer the pain of discipline or suffer the pain of regret." Report
I definitely treat myself once in awhile but a whole day of treats (or cheats)? Not for me. It's just too easy for me to fall off track.

There really is no "one size fits all" way to lose/maintain weight. Interesting topic! Report
"Cheat/treat days" are a slippery slope for me. It's hard to plan them because social events sometimes come up at the last moment...
It works much better for me to integrate some treats into my daily routine, I feel more satisfied & able to stay on track if I do it this way. Report
I can attest to the carb cycling. Is the method I currently use and it allows me to be alot more flexible with what I eat. Report
Earlier in my SparkPeople journey, I was doing the Cheat Day and it was hard to schedule everything in on that day because it ment passing up normal things on a daily basis. I seriously felt denied which made me understand bulimia, which scared me. I tried calorie cycling and it was better. Now that I'm in maintance mode, I changed that mentality where I will allow myself a bit of what I'm craving but still be vigillant in my calorie consumption for the day. Report
I don't have a "Cheat Day" per se, but for the last 18 years, my husband and I have had pizza and wine on Fridays. I estimated as best I could how many calories were in the pizza, and so on Friday afternoon, I do a heavy load of cardio and weight lifting, to "burn off" the number of calories for the day that go over my limit. It's worked for me since 2007. Report
I do a cheat day on Friday with my hubby. Watching t.v and munching on Frito and popcorn. Maybe we will have a pastrami sandwich for dinner with the works on it. Maybe a hotdog all the way. Report
I went on vacation and figured out (with a nutritionist) how many calories I could eat to maintain my weight. I didn't want to spend vacation time losing weight. Armed with my increased calorie target, I enjoyed one cocktail each evening, a small ice cream one day, relaxed a bit at meals and felt luxurious. It wasn't until I got home that I noticed the message from SparkPeople that since I was getting over 100 minutes of aerobic exercise each day that I STILL wasn't getting enough calories and could actually slow down my calorie burn. Go figure! I didn't gain weight, but I didn't lose the weight I thought I might since I only got up to my maintenance target one of four days. Report
I call it a "treat", because "cheat" sounds so negative! I pick event (not a whole day) per week to eat something I normally wouldn't--like a couple of beers, or a glass of sangria, or a slice of homemade German Chocolate cake at a friend's birthday party. But it's not a free-for-all, and it goes in the Tracker. One time I hit 2300 calories for the day, but usually it lands me in the 1800-2000 calories range, which is hardly terrible. (Ordinarily, I eat consume about 1450 calories per day, midrange for my high activity level.)

The once-a-week-treats haven't slowed my weight loss pace (10 lbs in 33 days!), and I've realized they actually are healthy in terms of maintaining some semblance of a normal social life. Otherwise, I would avoid most events, end up missing my friends and feeling lonely---a pretty good reason to halt to weight loss efforts! Report
Calorie cycling within a reasonable range works best for me rather than having "cheat" days. Report
A single cookie opens the door and lets the rest of the batch in to party. I cannot stop at one (cookie, piece of pie, slice of pizza...ANYTHING). I know this about myself. So, six days a week, I weigh my portions, count my calories and touch no junk food. I go crazy on Saturdays. I've managed to lose 70 pounds in a year, and have been maintaining at 134-136 for six months now. I know I will have to, pretty much, eat this way for the rest of my life.

It isn't for everyone, but moderation has never worked for me. I am an all or nothing person. It's not the ideal way to be, it's not the healthiest way to live, but it's the middle ground I've found between complete deprivation and gluttony. Report
I enjoy cheat days more because I don't have to calorie count. I eat what I want but listen to my body. Report
i just eat healthy till something comes up. Like the hubby brings home doughnuts or the kid is going over to her moms and we have pizza night. but for the rest of that day i eat good. I do try and eat pretty healthy and stick to the plan mon-friday cause the weekends we normally eat out at least one meal and i know the total at the end of the day will be bad. If you can stick to that one day a week eatting whatever and the other 6 healthy days its whatever works for you. Report
I agree with what others have said. Occasionally I treat myself to a food or meal higher in sugar, fats, carbs etc. moderation is the key. For me it wouldn't be a special meal or treat if I could have it one or two days every week. That concept for me would not work. Report
My cheat days tend to turn into cheat weeks & then I tend to lose control. Report
I have had to eliminate cheat days because one cheat day turns into two cheat days and so on and so on. For me, it's a slippery slope. Report
I don't designate "cheat" days, but there are times where I indulge more than usual. I'm trying very hard to limit the occurrences! Then I resume my normal healthier habits the next day.

I think knowing a day was a "cheat" day would encourage me to indulge even though I didn't want / need to, if that makes sense. Otherwise, I just take it one day at a time trying to make healthy choices. If a special occasion comes up, I try to plan for it. But I think I would have more cheat days if I actually planned them than I would otherwise. Report
I don't have any 'off' days as yet, as I like structure and order and I still haven't mastered my lifestyle yet. However, I don't like the idea of a 'cheat' day; for me, it's a very slippery slope that I just don't trust myself on right now.
Once I'm ready, I think I'll have an 'off' day....from tracking. I do love tracking now, but I think in time all the weighing and measuring will get weary. Even on those days, I reckon I'll pretty much stick to how I'm eating now, with maybe a few extras slotted in there. Report
For starters, I don't do diet food. I eat the same foods I've always eaten, the only difference now is that I eat more often and much smaller portions.

Secondly, I don't do "cheat" days and that's because I don't have a whole list of foods that I "can't" eat. Do I ocassionally take a day off from my weight loss program? ABSOLUTELY!!!

I realized pretty early in my weight loss journey that I would never reach my goals if I didn't take a day off every now and then. Losing weight is hard work and after losing 50+lbs, I deserve to take a day off whenever I want. It's no different than the time off I take from my career. Yes, I love my job but I can't do it 24/7. I NEED to take time off every week.

Now, having said that, when I do take a day off, it generally doesn't last more than a day and the next day, I'm back on my regular weight loss program and may even kick up my exercise program for a day or two. Report
My "cheat day" is basically Friday nights or all day Saturday... sometimes both. I generally try to keep some healthy choices in there, and won't pick a 1200 calorie single meal just bc it is my "day off", but will eat stuff I normally do not. I started this tradition basically as a way to not have to cook as much after a long week and also bc I am a flexitarian that generally does not buy meat for her household. Sometimes, I just have to have that chicken or that burger... sometimes. As others have said: moderation is key. Report
life is short - got to have some treats along the way. Moderation is key. Report